Finally a vintage sofa for me

There’s a great 2nd hand furniture store 2 blocks from our home called Ontario Thrift on Pape Avenue.

I happened in one day and fell in love with a mid-century modern sofa with teak arm rests.  I just couldn’t pass it by as it has such clean lines, it is in excellent condition, comfortable, and the size is perfect for our living room.  Now here she is in my workshop:


Here’s another shot where you can see her beautiful teak arm rests:


This stylin’ vintage piece is awaiting re-upholstery by me and a trusted master upholsterer who has given me a lot of help with my hobby.  Now, the challenge is to choose new fabric.  While the fabric looks great in these pics, it is getting quite worn (I think it’s original).  In the coming days I will be posting fabric swatches.  Right now, I’m partial to a vintage woven in a strong colour like blue or red.  I just can’t choose a neutral for something so divine.  I’d love your suggestions so feel free to pipe up!


And now for the reveal – my Schumacher remnant masterpiece

For those who read my 1st upholstery blog post: “Sitting with Schumacher’s Chiang Mai Dragon” I know you’ll understand how excited I am to reveal my finished chair.

Since 1889, Schumacher has created some of the highest end fabrics in home décor (supplying to the White House, for example).  I received a remnant and wanted to feature it on a larger piece.  I found a discarded small wing chair on Floyd Avenue in Toronto and decided it was perfect for my project.   I ended up using a Joanne JF Fabric from “Winning Weaves” in chocolate brown.  It sets off the bright candy colours of the Chiang Mai Dragon print (in Alabaster colourway).  Here she is:

New Project: Eastlake Style Settee


This beautifully carved antique settee is in the Eastlake style and could have been manufactured by Jacques and Hay here in Toronto, Canada. Jacques and Hay had their first factory at King and Bay in 1835. In the 1870s, they had a six acre factory employing 500 people located where Union Station now stands. Jacques and Hay supplied furnishings for Spadina House, Osgoode Hall and even Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

This settee resides in a gorgeous Riverdale home decorated in carefully chosen period furnishings. Tina wanted to reupholster her beloved settee in a neutral shade (to balance out a lot of colour in the room). She chose a J. Ennis faux linen called Pure in 602 Seashell.

And now for the reveal:


What do you think? It's now sturdy and gorgeous – yet very likely over 100 years old!

As this settee was quite old, with sagging webbing, coil springs that needed retying and a wobbly frame, quite a bit of TLC (restoration) was required. This piece was completely stripped, the frame was stabilized with screws, corner braces, a hardwood splint, and glued. Here’s a collage:

I spoke to the settee's owner Tina and she provided some more history on this piece. In her words:

"It was picked up by my daughter in Baysville, Ontario (on the Lake of Bays) which has some stately
old cottages on it, as well as settlements dating back to the 19th century, so this could have been purchased for either a home or a cottage up that way. Our in-laws' cottage has been there since the early part of the 20th century."

And here is Tina's reaction to the reupholstered settee:

"I'm thrilled! My daughter also was very impressed with it, and even more proud of herself that she'd been the one to spot it."

Another exciting project done and dusted!

A Tale of Two Seaties

(with my apologies to Dickens…)

“Nothing that we reupholster, is done in vain. I believe, with all my soul, that we shall see triumph.”
― Julie James, Bespoke Upholstery with inspiration from Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Our story begins during a solo bike ride on the south east side of Toronto when a historian and art collector (my customer David) spied a lone wooden arm chair abandoned on the curb.  He enquired at the deli it fronted and they said the food inspector insisted on “no seating” in their establishment so yes, the chair was up for grabs (or landfill).  David returned by transit and took the chair home.  The bus driver even waived his fare saying “It appears you’ve brought your own seat.”

Here’s the chair as it was then:chair_1_before_upholstery

You see, for a while now David had desired a wooden arm chair for comfort and practicality.  He appreciated that the bare wooden arms don’t get soiled over time as fabric arms do (a brilliant example of form following function).  David also wanted to create a tea table for two in his condo.  But where could he find a similar chair?

Why, in his friendly neighborhood thrift store, of course!  Ontario Thrift at 1053 Pape Avenue in Toronto is steadily gaining a reputation for fine goods.  Owner Osman Abdi knows quality and value.  He specializes in collectibles, antique furniture and decorative arts, but keeps the prices divinely low.*

At Ontario Thrift, David spied a similar wooden arm chair and got a great price from Osman and his lovely wife.

Here’s the second chair:chair_2_before

Next David called Bespoke Upholstery (my custom reupholstery business).  I met with David, helped him choose fabric** for his newly acquired chairs and gave him a very competitive quote for complete reupholstery with all new high quality materials, wood frame tightening, cleaning and polishing.  Now, David has two restored chairs – far superior in quality than anything new available in furniture stores today.

Dickens would have been proud!


*I got an industrial sewing machine there for $200 – it’s sold elsewhere for $800!  And I adore my elegant silver teapot which pours ever so Downtonly – a steal at $10.

**David selected an Ultrasuede from J. Ennis Fabrics in two of his favourite colours.

Reupholstery as History and… Archaeology

An upholstery shop is not the Valley of the Kings, but I still feel like Indiana Jones when I uncover the history of a chair.

Stripping a chair before reupholstering it is like excavating a site: removing layers of fabric, padding, staples, decomposing burlap, and sagging webbing.   As the stripping process is carried out, I assess the damage.  Does this project require new webbing or new springs?  Is the frame damaged?  Are the joints loose and in need of glue and clamps?

The frame shows telltale signs of vintage.  I once stripped two chairs owned by a famous Canadian designer. After removing the upholstery, I noticed the chairs were stamped “France“ on the woodwork in a place only an upholsterer would be able to see.  Soon, they would be covered with fabric and the stamp obscured again.

Two authentic antique French chairs ready for reupholstery.

French stamp on antique chair

On another occasion, I found two mid-century modern dining chairs curbside.  I took them home and found they were, indeed, Danish:made_in_denmark_stamp

Most thorough modern day upholsterers remove earlier layers of fabric before adding new padding and new top fabric. From what I’ve seen to date, upholsterers of yesteryear frequently left old top fabrics intact and simply covered over them.  Recently, I was stripping a wing chair that was picked up at Queen West Antiques by a friend.  I was quite surprised to unearth the original layer of top fabric fully intact and sporting a label from a local upholstery shop on the seat deck:

cooper brothers tag on old wing chair

I was even more astounded when I Googled “Cooper Brothers Upholstery” and found that they are still in business here in Toronto.  Since 1939 no less!  I’ve emailed the brothers to see if they can tell us how old the chair is based on the tag.  (Judging from its appearance, I believe the tag is from the 70’s or earlier – at a minimum over 30 years old.)  The good news is,  this old wing chair has at least another lifetime in it!  You could never say this about today’s new furniture (assembled with fibre board and destined for land fill after a few years).

Here’s another picture of a tag I found from a custom upholstery shop that no longer exists:


While working at another upholstery shop, a customer came in with two matching cocktail chairs.  The customer explained they were from a relative, quite wobbly, and needed restablization as well as reupholstery.  He then turned them over so that we could look at them better.  Canadian ingenuity at its best!

hockey stick chair

While working at various upholstery shops, I often encountered vintage fabric in excellent shape.  These are the rejected fabrics of yesteryear, stripped off chairs and sofas to be replaced by solid chenilles and wovens in taupe and beige.  How styles have changed.


Note: the yellow fabric piece on the top left is a “pull” – a cheaper piece of fabric is sewn onto the expensive show fabric to make the show fabric go further.
??????????????????????????????? vintage_chintz_fabric vintage_ridpath_fabric

The last fabric piece is marked Ridpaths.  Ridpaths Furnishings was founded in 1907 in Toronto and was located on Yonge Street (across from the original Canadian Tire store).  It finally closed its doors in 2011. From an article in the Globe and Mail:

“Throughout its history, Ridpath’s dealt in furniture produced within North America, England and Italy, placing its price point significantly higher than that of retailers who brought in pieces from Asia or dealt in flimsier goods.

“It’s definitely a thinner market because the younger generation just wants quick build-it-yourself disposable things. So that mentality has changed,” said Mr. Lochhead, the store’s manager. “But there’s still a good portion of clients out there who understand high end.””

How right you are, Mr. Lochhead.

New Project: Bud’s Wing Chair

The inspiration board above, though striking, needed revision. Bud sent me some links to images to help zero in on the fabric and look for my reupholstery of his Chippendale style wing chair. I’ve put those pics in the new collage below:


I tried to find all the fabrics that my two fabric suppliers carry that are most similar to the tapestries that Bud likes. See them below. The one that most resembles Bud’s picks is the one on his wife Simone’s chair. The two plain fabrics in the bottom right corner (or something even more griege and burlap looking) could be used on the outside of the chair to give it that unfinished or deconstructed look that the chair in the middle has. Or we could use a number of fabrics like the custom patchwork chair.


Stay tuned for the results…

New Project: Ros & Joe’s Parsons Chairs

This was my first real, solo, upholstery commission.  I am greatly indebted to our dear neighbours Ros and Joe for trusting me with their furnishings 🙂

Fortunately, their Parsons chairs turned out really well (if I do say so myself).  I must admit I also got some advice from Juanita, a master upholsterer who happens to live only blocks away from me.

These chairs were originally from Up Country and after years of daily use, they were worn looking.  Fortunately, they have sturdy hardwood frames and legs and they were definitely worth reupholstering.

First, Ros stained the legs to a dark rich brown completely transforming and updating their look.

Ros then chose a Joanne/JF Fabric called Knight in a beautiful gray colour.  (Note how the tone of the chair is vastly altered depending on the light in the after photos.  This is why I often take photos of furniture outdoors for truer colour.)

In the collage below, I’ve also included another fabric from the same fabric sample book so that you can see a coordinating fabric that Ros chose for cushions on her living room sofa (Prince – the fabric, not the sofa).  She is considering adding a raspberry accent for pop so I included a corresponding swatch.

And now here are the pics…


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